AJCR 2010/1

Foreword

Keywords: Civil War, TRC

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All of the articles appearing in this issue are on the wavelength of our journal’s name and ACCORD’s name. They come with case studies about the attainment of conflict resolution or the orientation towards conflict resolution. They share information about approaches and agreements, attitudes and traditions. They are honest about shortcomings and threats, but also about good practices and exemplary models. They can contribute to the realistic equipment and the enthusiastic commitment of all of us who are doing what we can to remove causes of conflict and promote the building of peace.

Both formal and informal institutions are discussed in these articles. In the case of the Bakassi Peninsula, there was an International Court of Justice ruling, further mediation and a formal agreement between Cameroon and Nigeria (Baye). After the ending of the brutal Sierra Leone civil war, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was given the formidable task of penetrating to the horrible truths of the war, and propagating a tolerant reconciliation between the sides (Svärd). In some Somali groups in eastern Ethiopia, many people take their minor and major cases to a fairly informal religious court instead of to the state courts (Zeleke). In the same area, women fulfil informal but powerful roles, sometimes to prod men to fight, but more often to prompt them to make peace (Tadesse). Women take part in social ceremonies, and specifically also in the rapprochement between groups. They are indeed the key figures where intermarriage between different clans or groups has become a bridge-building tradition. In a south-eastern Nigerian city, where reasons abound for inter-ethnic and at the same time indigene-settler tensions, most of the people revealed and maintained an attitude of symbiotic coexistence (Odoemene and Olaoba). There was some state intervention in particular clashes, but the general atmosphere of inter-ethnic harmony may be attributed to several informal factors. There were, at least during the period researched, various conflict-managing and peace-promoting efforts of ethnic unions. There was the influence of stranger-friendly dispositions among the predominant cultural and religious groups. On the whole, residential neighbourhoods were ‘un-segregated’ and competition for jobs was ‘non-exclusivist’.

In each of these articles, we find accounts, experiences and recommendations from real life. What we read in each one, is of course of direct relevance in any similar or comparable situation. There may also be a much wider relevance, however. From the settings in which particular procedures, practices and dispositions were applied, examples and findings may radiate and be applicable at other places and in other circumstances. Even where the causes of a conflict, the cultures concerned, the parties involved, or the methods attempted may be quite different, the insights and inspiration we can obtain from these articles may be of real significance.

The self-evident context of all these articles is the reality of problems and tensions arising out of human interaction. Differences, difficulties and disputes emerge on a daily basis, and/or accumulate over long-term periods. This happens in rural areas and urban settings, in particular countries and across borders between countries. Where inequality, discrimination or any form of injustice is inflicted on individuals or groups, reactions are elicited, and conflicts are caused. But then we find a common thread running through all these articles: the possibility of some human beings changing their mindsets and attitudes from being committed to troublemaking to becoming committed to peacemaking. These articles show us how this indeed happens, from grassroots level to government level. The articles also give us real-life examples of changed attitudes, actions and behaviours in more than one socio-cultural, socio-political and socio-economic setting. And moreover, the articles refer to both present-day, formalised structures and time-proven, traditionalised customs, and make suggestions about integrating conventional and contemporary approaches. Some of the articles even show how people steer clear of ‘modern’ state courts with their disadvantages and opt for social institutions which appear convenient and trustworthy.

The cultural embeddedness and social orientation of traditional methods are duly emphasised. People frown upon the way in which legal structures focus on mere punishment, but appreciate the way in which indigenous methods take reconciliation and social harmony seriously.

The article about the truth and reconciliation process in Sierra Leone (Svärd) laments the way in which the recommendations about addressing the root causes of the terrible war and promoting the urgently needed reconciliation were implemented too slowly, too late, or not at all. When leaders lacked the political will and shirked the responsibility, non-governmental organisations stepped in and tried to fill as much of the gap as they could. In this article, therefore, it is strongly recommended that implementation of any Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations and other follow-up work should start without delay and should be pursued as long as necessary.

As a matter of interesting coincidence, we may add that ACCORD has recognised the crucially important contributions of civil society in Sierra Leone and presented the 2010 Africa Peace Award to the Nation of Sierra Leone. At an ACCORD seminar on the same day as the Award-giving ceremony, the President of Sierra Leone, H.E. Ernest Bai Koroma, emphasised the urgency of addressing colonialism, ethnic intolerance, corruption, human rights violations, and poverty.

In each of the articles, directly mentioned or clearly implied recommendations may be found. For instance:

  • Governments should follow appropriate examples of the peaceful resolution of border conflicts (Baye).
  • State legal systems should expand their capacity and reduce the loop-holes for corruption (Zeleke).
  • Both formal and informal institutions for dealing with conflict should focus on alleviating and eradicating poverty (Svärd, Tadesse).
  • Traditional methods of resolving conflict, with their inherent social orientation, should be revitalised in appropriate ways (Tadesse).
  • Women should participate fully in processes of dealing with conflict (Tadesse) – and men should learn from their attitudes and contributions.
  • Education should be improved and promoted, and should include human rights and social coexistence (Svärd).
  • The ‘will and desire’ to coexist and cooperate should be promoted (Odoemene and Olaoba).

As already indicated in the first paragraph above, these articles are about conflict resolution, but not about idealistic or superficial conflict resolution. In the aspects and case studies described and discussed, the conflicts concerned are understood with penetrating insight as to root causes, resulting purposes, threatening factors, conflictual mindsets and divisive attitudes. The reader can sense an orientation towards satisfactorily removing or transforming the reasons for a conflict, and towards restoring and maintaining the disrupted social harmony. As always, it is enlightening and encouraging to learn how real people in actual situations have helped to prevent, manage or resolve conflicts.

We sincerely thank the authors of these articles for sharing their accounts, findings and recommendations with us and we appreciate our privilege of passing such meaningful material on to our readers.

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